After two relatively easy victories over nonconference foes, the Gophers women’s basketball team has sneaked into the last spot in the Top 25.
It’s too early for any kind of conclusions, though there have been good signs. Coach Lindsay Whalen’s emphasis on defense has not yet come at the expense of the offense. Senior Kenisha Bell looks comfortable working off the ball more with Jasmine Brunson at the point. The two have played nice defense on the perimeter, too.
None of these observations necessarily qualify as eye-openers. But this does: Annalese Lamke’s play at center.
Lamke is a 6-3 senior who has been given an opportunity. In two games she has scored more points than she did the past two seasons. After three years of doing more cheering than playing, she is starting, playing, scoring.
“There was an opportunity for her to step into a starting role this season,” Whalen said. “And she seized it.”
Again, only two games. The competition will get tougher. But, so far, Lamke — and power forward Taiye Bello — have reaped the rewards of an offense seemingly more balanced inside-out.
Lamke has worked for this. Whalen is in her first season coaching, but she has been at some practices in past seasons. What she usually saw was Lamke first on the court working. It’s that work ethic that might have put her in this position. Lamke worked hard to get stronger, too. Maybe what Whalen and her staff have done is give her both a green light and the confidence to show what she can do.
“It’s a little bit of both,” Lamke said. “I mean, your hard work can’t show off without opportunity. So the playing time I’ve been given? All the work I’ve put in the last three years, and over the summer, was to make the most of that opportunity.”
As a sophomore and junior, Lamke appeared in 31 games, starting none. Playing little, she totaled 26 points. It was a big change for the former all-state star at Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School in western Wisconsin.
Through two games this season, Lamke has scored 28 points, shot 75 percent from the field and averaged five rebounds and 1.5 steals. She has shown good footwork in the post and a knack for the big offensive rebound. Bell and Brunson’s speed and ability to break down defenses — and their willingness to pass (they’re averaging 11 assists per game between them) — have created space for both Lamke and Bello.
“It’s a credit to [Lamke], really,” Whalen said. “She was ready for this opportunity. She did the work to prepare for the chance. So now it’s here, and she’s enjoying it. And we’re going to her a lot, because we know she has a nice touch in there. She’s big and strong and she makes a lot of plays.”
The Gophers season continues Saturday against San Diego, the first of six consecutive games at Williams Arena.
Just more opportunities.
“It’s a great blessing,” Lamke said. “Just to have my senior year start off the way it has, I’m extremely thankful for it. I’m thankful for the coaching staff for trusting me. I just hope it carries on for the rest of the season.”